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Review: The Strokes triumph on their 1st album in 7 years

April 8, 2020 GMT
This cover image released by Cult/RCA shows "The New Abnormal" by The Strokes. (Cult/RCA via AP)
This cover image released by Cult/RCA shows "The New Abnormal" by The Strokes. (Cult/RCA via AP)

The Strokes, “The New Abnormal” (RCA/Cult)

On their first album in seven years, The Strokes seem to have known they’d be returning at a crazy time. “We are trying hard to get your attention,” singer Julian Casablancas sings on the first song, “The Adults Are Talking.”

Nine songs later, the band has definitely gotten our attention. Mission accomplished, gentlemen.

“The New Abnormal” is a superb slice of indie rock, varied, exciting and complex, with elements of glam, straight-down-the-line rock and dreamy pop. Produced this time by Rick Rubin, the album comes 19 years after the band’s seminal debut “Is This It” and is, in many ways, a fulfillment of that early potential. It’s dynamite stuff.

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“Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” is upbeat and poppy in a way only The Strokes can do — riding on the swells of ’80s New Wave (even asking of ’80s bands, “where did they go?”) but also commenting on the song structure. “Can we switch into the chorus right now?” And they do.

Speaking of the ’80s, “Bad Decisions” repurposes Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself” — he even gets a credit — and warped slices of synth propel “Why Are Sundays So Depressing.” Casablancas channels Frank Sinatra in “Not the Same Anymore” and leans on his upper register on the shimmering, Psychedelic Furs-ish “Eternal Summer.”

Lyrically, the album explores unease, inaction and alienation. “I want new friends, but they don’t want me/They’re making plans while I watch TV” is the chorus to one song. On “At the Door,” Casablancas knows he is a lost soul, but offers hope: “Use me like an oar/Get yourself to shore.”

“Eternal Summer” hits especially close to home these days. Sinister forces are at play. Casablancas says we’re at the 11th hour and asks, “Everybody’s on the take/Tell me are you on the take, too?” Then comes the killer line for anyone facing a virus pandemic: “They got the remedy, but they won’t let it happen.”

The last song — “Ode to the Mets” — is weighty, both ponderous and soaring, shapeshifting through various styles — a band looking back uneasily. “Gone now are the old times/Forgotten, time to hold on the railing.”

If we’re all going down with the ship, let this be the soundtrack.

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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